Hopkins-Smith Undercard Features Two Potential Stars in the Making

Photo: Will Hart

By Eric Raskin

While the main event at the Forum isn’t exactly designed to be a forward-looking fight (unless Smith wins, anyway), on the two-bout TV undercard, the focus is on the future. Fans will get a look at two of the fastest rising potential stars in boxing, a pair of Olympians with perfect pro records.

The cruiserweight division is traditionally low on hype and exposure, but that will start to change if Ukrainian destroyer Oleksandr Usyk (10-0, 9 KOs) continues to build on his momentum against South Africa’s Thabiso Mchunu (17-2, 11 KOs). Usyk defeated Artur Beterbiev at the 2012 Olympics en route to winning the gold medal, and he’s easily cast aside every pro opponent thus far, including previously unbeaten Krzysztof Glowacki in September to claim a cruiserweight belt. The 29-year-old Usyk is already talking about moving up to heavyweight, but there’s still plenty of business to take care of beneath the 200-pound limit, starting with this battle of southpaws against Mchunu.

While Usyk makes his HBO debut, featherweight Joseph "JoJo" Diaz (22-0, 13 KOs) will fight for the fourth time this year on an HBO network (one was on HBO Latino, one on HBO Pay-Per-View) when he squares off against Mexico’s Horacio “Violento” Garcia (30-1-1, 22 KOs). The 24-year-old lefty Diaz, who fought in the same 2012 Olympic Games as Usyk but failed to medal, has emerged this year as one of America’s best boxing prospects, and he’s stepped up his opposition in 2016, as his four foes came in with a combined record of 98-6-6. For the fast-handed, body-banging California kid, the stage is set for showdowns with legit contenders in 2017 if he can finish off 2016 in style against Garcia.